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Inpatient Vs Outpatient

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Difference Between Inpatient & Outpatient Care 

The difference between inpatient and outpatient care is the amount of time a patient spends under medical supervision or in a rehabilitation facility.

People in inpatient care are hospitalized overnight, while those in outpatient care return home and do not stay overnight. Inpatient and outpatient services are similar, but outpatients are not supervised full-time.

Both inpatient and outpatient care have advantages and disadvantages. Doctors and patients determine which of the two options is best for them based on several factors, including medical needs, ability to self-supervise safely, insurance coverage, budget for care, and life and family obligations.

What Is Inpatient Care for Addiction?

Inpatient hospital stays offer comprehensive, round-the-clock care for those detoxing and recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. The benefit of inpatient stays is the ability to remove oneself from temptation and triggers in everyday life and focus entirely on recovery.

Research shows that 90-day inpatient hospital care in a rehab facility or treatment program provides the best opportunity for positive long-term outcomes.

Inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment is appropriate for anyone with an addiction, but it is ideal for those who:

  • Live in an unsafe environment
  • Do not have a healthy support system
  • Experience a co-occurring disorder, such as depression, or bipolar disorder
  • Have experienced previous addiction relapses
  • Can manage the financial burden of inpatient treatment
  • Can set aside their family and work obligations and focus entirely on recovery

Examples of Inpatient Services

Inpatient rehab hospital services and medical treatment include:

  • Room, board, and meals
  • 24-hour medical care and supervision
  • Lab tests and x-rays
  • Personalized treatment program that is continually modified based on the changing needs and progress of the patient
  • Access to individual and group therapy
  • Doctor-recommended prescription medications to treat addiction and co-occurring conditions
  • Immersion in the most intensive, safe, and supportive recovery program
  • Lack of distraction and temptation from the outside world
  • Access to a blend of behavioral, medical, and psychological therapies
  • Comprehensive treatment for addiction and co-occurring conditions
  • Access to long-term outpatient recovery programs once inpatient treatment is complete

Some of these benefits are not exclusive to inpatient care. However, inpatient care offers an opportunity to immerse yourself entirely in recovery without distraction. Patients live in a safe environment free of temptation and enjoy access to customizable treatment programs.

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What Is Outpatient Care for Addiction? 

Outpatient care for addiction is similar to inpatient care, but it doesn’t offer the same level of care. Patients continue to participate in their normal lives when receiving outpatient care. This might mean spending nights at home while attending treatment during the day. It can also mean spending just a few hours per week in treatment.

The primary benefit of outpatient care is that patients can continue to honor their everyday responsibilities and obligations while receiving treatment. Outpatient care also tends to be less expensive. 

Outpatient drug and alcohol treatment is appropriate for anyone with an addiction, but it is ideal for those who:

  • Live in a safe environment
  • Have a strong social support system
  • Are dealing with addiction without any co-occurring disorders
  • Are in recovery for the first time
  • Cannot manage the financial burden of inpatient treatment
  • Have obligations and responsibilities they cannot avoid during treatment

Examples of Outpatient Services

Outpatient care includes:

  • Personalized treatment program that is regularly modified as needed 
  • Lab tests
  • Access to individual and group therapy 
  • Doctor-recommended prescription medications to treat addiction and co-occurring conditions
  • Time spent in a safe and supportive environment ranges from just a few minutes a day to as much as 12 hours a day
  • Access to a blend of behavioral, medical, and psychological therapies
  • Comprehensive treatment for addiction and co-occurring conditions
  • Emergency room services
  • Outpatient (day) surgery
  • Access to long-term outpatient recovery programs once inpatient treatment is complete
  • Other healthcare services

Many outpatient programs have a 24/7 support line to call, but they don't have that 24/7 medication supervision that inpatient care does.

Cost Comparison: Inpatient vs Outpatient Care

Inpatient care is more expensive than outpatient treatment because people receiving inpatient care are treated around the clock. Even if inpatients and outpatients receive the same medical services, the person undergoing inpatient care requires overnight stays and meals.

Care costs for inpatient addiction treatment can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the program and the patient’s specific needs. Most outpatient programs typically cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Keep in mind, the amount of money someone pays out-of-pocket for care depends on his or her health insurance plans and copayments. Someone receiving inpatient care might pay less out-of-pocket than someone would for basic outpatient care. 

This doesn’t mean that the person in inpatient care saves money, though, because they’ve paid higher premiums in advance of receiving addiction treatment.

The cost of addiction treatment varies from person-to-person and depends heavily on someone’s situation.

Medicare and Medicaid

The out-of-pocket cost changes dramatically for those on Medicare or Medicaid based on his or her coverage. Additionally, Medicaid patients receive different financial support based on their state of residence. Remember, Medicare or Medicaid coverage requires patients to seek care at pre-approved facilities.

In general, insurance covers at least a portion of addiction treatment. There might be other financial support options available. For example, most communities offer low- or no-cost treatment options and rehabilitation services funded via state and federal programs. These programs are based on need and might have a waiting list. 

Your care provider can help you sort through the details of what’s available based on your location and circumstances.

Updated on March 29, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. cskopecce. “Inpatient vs. Outpatient: Comparing Two Types of Patient Care.” Sgu.Edu, Medical Blog | St. George’s University | The SGU Pulse, 18 June 2019,
  2. “Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities | CMS.” Www.Cms.Gov,
  3. Finney, John W., et al. “The Effectiveness of Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment for Alcohol Abuse: the Need to Focus on Mediators and Moderators of Setting Effects.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 24 Jan. 2006,
  4. Williams, C., et al. “Inpatient vs. Outpatient Pain Management: Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial.” Science Direct, Elsevier, 3 Nov. 1997,
  5. Escobar, Gabriel J., et al. “Risk-Adjusting Hospital Inpatient Mortality Using Automated Inpatient, Outpatient, and Laboratory Databases.” Medical Care, vol. 46, no. 3, 2008, pp. 232–239. JSTOR,
  6. Summers, N., Dawe, U. & Stewart, D. A comparison of inpatient and outpatient ASCT. Bone Marrow Transplant 26, 389–395 .
  7. Moore, Carlton, et al. “Medical Errors Related to Discontinuity of Care from an Inpatient to an Outpatient Setting.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 11 Aug. 2003, Davis, Karen, and Louise B. Russell. “The Substitution of Hospital Outpatient Care for Inpatient Care.” The Review of Economics and Statistics, vol. 54, no. 2, 1972, pp. 109–120. JSTOR,

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